To Build, We Must Destroy: Futures of Care

Sophie Lewis and M.E. O'Brien

March 18 and April 1, 2022, 3:00-5:00pm
Géza, 306 Maujer

March 18, 2022, with Sophie Lewis

Historically, abolition of the family has been “the infamous proposal of the communists” (for example, in the Communist Manifesto); promulgated briefly in theory, fiction, and Soviet policy by the Bolshevik leader Alexandra Kollontai in her early utopian phase, and widely taken up by Marxist feminists and gay liberationists in the 1970s. Perspectives have varied: what does it mean to abolish the family? How should we understand the word “abolish” in this context: creation, destruction, preservation, and/or transvaluation?

Sophie Lewis introduces the idea of family abolition, outlining Kollontai’s theorization of a “red love” as well as its resurgence in the 1968 milieu in which the American feminist Shulamith Firestone wrote The Dialectic of Sex. We consider the relevance of these revolutionary horizons to the future of care as a collective practice, while also focusing on what Kollontai and Firestone failed to understand–the racial specificities of the family form throughout capitalism’s development–to illuminate the anti-racist, anti-colonial, and Black liberationist meanings of family abolition.

April 1, 2022, with Sophie Lewis and M.E. O'Brien

In many of her essays, speeches, and novels, Alexandra Kollontai explored the idea that capitalism generates “property love”: an anti-liberatory form of feeling and attachment between human beings that describes the bonds between lovers, spouses, friends, and parents and children in a society predicated on private property.

What kinds of social struggles are capable of freeing humanity from property love? How might we envisage a world organized, instead, around the idea of the “care commune”? Kollontai envisioned overcoming the patriarchal family and emancipating love, through collectivizing household labor. She challenged the narrow family form that had come to dominate the socialist imagination: a respectable male-breadwinner and a housewife, modeled after the bourgeoisie.

Both the power, and the limits, of Kollontai’s vision are best understood through the broad historical changes of the working-class family in capitalist development. In this seminar, M.E. O'Brien and Sophie Lewis consider “abolition of the family” as a politics against property and against capitalist work, towards a queer horizon of communized care.

Image: Still from Dora Garcia’s If I Could Wish for Something

Sophie Lewis is a writer living in Philadelphia, a teacher with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her essays, on subjects ranging from octopuses to Wages for Housework and trans feminism, have appeared everywhere from Feminist Theory and Signs to The New York Times, n+1 magazine and The London Review of Books. Sophie studied English Literature as well as Environmental Policy at Oxford University, Politics at the New School for Social Research, and earned her PhD at the University of Manchester in human geography. She is the author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (2019) and of Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation (2022).

M.E. O'Brien writes at the intersection of communist theory, trans liberation, LGBTQ social-movement studies, and feminism. Her forthcoming book Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052–2072, is co-authored with Eman Abdelhadi, and will be published by Common Notions in July 2022. She co-edits two magazines, Pinko, a Magazine of Gay Communism, and Parapraxis, a new publication of psychoanalytic theory. She has published work on family abolition for Endnotes, Homintern, and Pinko. Previously, she coordinated the New York City Trans Oral History Project, and completed a PhD at NYU. There, she wrote on how capitalism shaped New York City LGBTQ social movements.